Scharffen Berger produces some of the finest chocolate in the world. If you want to find out how they turn the beans from a ripe cacao pod into the rich confection preferred by the world’s best bakers, read the new book by the company’s founders, John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, called The Essence of Chocolate (Hyperion, 2006). As fascinating as that story is—Did you know the person roasting the cacao beans has to taste one every 30 seconds?—the real reason to read this cookbook is the recipes. There are over 100 mouth-watering recipes, with some old favorites like Chocolate Drop Cookies and some innovative desserts like Orange Chocolate Baklava.
Because Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to do something a little special for our loved ones, I’m sharing two from-scratch chocolate recipes for which we usually take shortcuts: chocolate truffles and hot chocolate. Take the time to make one of these delicious desserts for your beloved, and you’re sure to reap the benefits. If you’re unable to find Scharffen Berger chocolate at your local store, you may order it online, as well as the book, from www.scharffenberger.com. (Note: You’ll need a candy thermometer for the truffle recipe.)
3 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream, preferably not ultrapasturized
1/4 cup cocoa powder
5 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate, melted
Place the chopped chocolates in the top of a double boiler set over gently simmering water. Let the chocolate melt three-quarters of the way, then remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Return the pan to the bottom of the double boiler, off the heat, to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan to between 115 and 120 degrees F. The goal is to have the chocolate and cream at the same temperature.
Slowly drizzle the melted chocolate into the cream, stirring with a heatproof spatula to blend and emulsify (this emulsification is called a ganache). Stir gently, do not overmix.
Pour the ganache onto a baking sheet and spread into a layer about 1/4 inch thick. Once it has reached room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and let it stand overnight at room temperature to solidify.
Scoop up a teaspoon of ganache on a spoon or with a melon baller and shape the chocolate gently into a ball. Place on a sheet of parchment paper. Do not roll the truffles in the palms of your hand at this point; it will compress them too much and make them hard. They don’t need to be regular in size or shape. Scrape up any remaining bits of ganache with a pastry scraper and form into truffles.
Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Place about a teaspoon of the melted chocolate in the palm of one hand, and roll a truffle between your palms to coat it lightly with chocolate. (Rolling the truffles between your hands at this point will create a very thin layer of chocolate that will prevent the cocoa from soaking into the truffle.) Roll the coated truffles in cocoa powder.
The truffles can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Allow the truffles to come to room temperature before serving. Makes about 3 dozen truffles.
John’s Classic Drinking Chocolate
2 1/2 cups whole milk
4 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it is hot to the touch. Whisk in the chocolate and sugar and continue whisking for 1 to 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Whisk in the vanilla and the cinnamon and cayenne, if using. Reduce the heat to low. The chocolate may be made ahead; it will thicken as it sits.
Serve in demitasse cups or mugs depending on desired portion. Serves
6 to 8.
Note: For a lighter, airy consistency, remove the hot chocolate from the heat and mix with a hand blender on low speed just before serving. Or make ahead and use the frother of an espresso machine to reheat it. Individual servings can also be topped with frothed milk.
This can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, but if you use the spices, keep in mind their flavor intensifies over time.